These days the idea of restoring New Testament Christianity has fallen on hard times, the idea met by stifled yawns at best, and resistance at worst. We should be thinking of the future, not the past, many seem to declare.
Thus is raised a perfectly legitimate question. Why should restoring first century Christianity be an enticing idea at all?
- First, human beings will always need to undergo restoration. To suggest we do not need this is to suggest we are perfect, which we manifestly are not!
- Second, God is a God who seeks the restoration of his people. If the Old Testament has one overall theme, it has to be the plaintive call of God for his people to return. “Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:12).
- Third, the New Testament era is the moment of Christianity in its pristine state, an age of explosive evangelism, deep discipleship, and brotherly love. Never has there been a time in the history of Christianity that the church was more completely what the Lord would have it be.
- Fourth, the first century was one when apostolic authority was asserted. Never since has there been a group of church leaders, no matter how admirable, whose words supersede that of the New Testament’s inspired writers. The exploits of Augustine, Luther and Campbell might be interesting, but only the words of the New Testament writers are authoritative.
- Fifth, far more than restoring New Testament worship and church organization, restoration is about reviving the heart and soul of first century Christianity, the zeal and mission-mindedness, the compassion for the poor and love for brethren that the first century church had. They challenge us constantly to better things.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16).
Any version of Christianity that is more recent than the first century has been tainted by the dust and rubble of human thinking. I never fail to be inspired by the growth of the early church, by its love and purity.